There is always a reason behind travel. People are usually running away from something or looking for something. Most of the time people don’t know what they’re running from or what exactly they’re looking for, but they usually figure it out on the road. Or, they discover a bunch of other wonderful stuff that makes all their earlier worries/wants seem irrelevant.
When I started travelling full time I was doing a bit of both. I was running away from my old job/life and also trying to find myself. I felt like I’d kind of lost who I was. I think that’s pretty common. In short, I was having my quarter-life crisis. But you guys know how I started my journey. This is the story of HOW I conducted my soul searching through travel, some of my most ridiculous experiences and how I got used to being a lot more naked than my Irish Catholic upbringing ever prepared me for.
If you’re thinking of heading off travelling yourself, in search of adventure or something more, I’ve included a few tips too which will hopefully help you get the most out of your trip. It’s not as easy as buying a pair of elephant print pants on Khao San road and taking a meditation course in Ubud I assure you.
Tips for Soul Searching While Travelling
And Stories From my Travels
Go it Alone
Travelling solo is the best way to kick off any journey of self-discovery. It might seem daunting, but you will get SO much more out of your trip if you go solo. Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling with my boyfriend or family, but I know that when I do I don’t make the effort to talk to people outside my group to the same extent that I would as a solo traveller.
Also, as a solo traveller you’re free to explore exactly where and what you want, and change your plans at the drop of a hat. I travelled Peru and Brazil by myself about 6 years ago. I met SO many people on that trip. I travelled with two lovely Belgian people who I met in a hostel bar. We took overnight buses, visited Iguazu Falls and got lost in the favelas of Rio together.
I dated a Brazilian guy that I’m still friends with now. In Peru I chewed Coca leaves, hiked Machu Picchu and made a wonderful friend who I then visited in Toronto a couple of years later. Talking to new people and making new friends is one of the most important things about travelling. You never know what sort of stories they might have or where they might take you.
I got my first press trip by talking to someone I didn’t know. I used to be quite a quiet person, but years of travels and pushing myself out of my comfort zone have helped me to become more confident in any sort of social situation. If you’re staying in hostels you’ll probably end up spilling your soul to some stranger you met at a beach party and it will feel like free therapy. I cannot stress enough how much you will learn about yourself from meeting new people and making connections on the road.
Go off the Grid
No, you don’t need to smash your phone and go live at the top of a mountain to go off the grid, but trying to avoid social media, and only being available for emergency calls, will be really beneficial for your trip. This will give you the time and head-space to think about more important things and really be present in what you’re experiencing.
This is something I’ve struggled with during my travels. Especially with the blog, I feel like I’ll miss out if I’m not online. I have to put the phone or the camera down to make sure I’m actually seeing something with my own eyes instead of through a screen. I think that’s why Peru was such a spiritual country for me, I didn’t have internet on my phone at the time.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a phone that could connect to Wi-Fi. IMAGINE! So I spent a lot of time thinking, reading, drawing, talking to people and just soaking up the atmosphere of the place. I remember I had to use an internet café, which was at the back of a barber shop, in Rio to be able to check my emails, Facebook or online banking. It was only 6 years ago but it was a totally different way of travelling.
Now we all have roaming data and free wi-fi pretty much everywhere. We need to find a way to disconnect. It’s funny, people now pay big money to stay in places where you can’t get signal or internet. I spent a day in the Ulpotha yoga retreat (as seen in VOGUE dontcha know) in Sri Lanka without any interruptions from the outside world. We ate delicious Sri Lankan meals, swam in the lake and got interrupted by monkeys during our yoga session.
I totally understood why people wanted to be there. They were giving themselves time to rest and time to heal. I would have happily stayed there for at least a week. Of course, I’m not saying you should just completely ignore your friends and family at home, definitely keep them updated as to your whereabouts, but don’t sit on a gorgeous beach in the Philippines and scroll through Facebook or Instagram. Sure, upload a pic or two to make your friends at home jealous if you absolutely must, but that’s it!
Expose Yourself to New Things & Let go of Hang-ups
In order to get the most out of any travel experience you must be open to trying new things and experiencing the local culture. You can’t be concerned with looking cool or having perfect hair. Who gives a shit if your extensions will get wet, when in your life will you be back in this secret swimming spot with crystal clear waters?! SEIZE THE MOMENT. Take the opportunities that come your way and don’t let fear stop you from trying new things.
In Peru I stayed in a local home with a local family on a tiny island in Lake Titicaca. I learnt some of the local language, had home cooking meals and helped on the farm. It was an incredible experience. I remember the little girl of the family laughing her head off at me because I screamed when a GIANT moth landed on my pillow. She simply grabbed it in her bare hands and released it out the window. I was in awe.
Exposing yourself to new things can help with any kind of soul searching, and while you learn new things about what’s around you, you will inevitable learn new things about yourself. Speaking of exposing yourself, I’ve learnt to get pretty damn comfortable with nudity whilst travelling. Spas in various countries have VERY different rules and spa etiquette it seems.
In Finland I watched a group of older men run from the sauna, completely naked, and jump into the frozen lake. I actually recorded it, is that weird?! haha. In Sri Lanka I attended an Ayurvedic spa. Turns out, you get totally naked and the massage lady actually massages your boobs too during the full body massage (not the norm elsewhere in the world as far as I’ve seen). She also DRIES you with a towel after your shower. So I basically just had to stand there, everything hanging out, while this poor (or lucky?!haha) Sri Lankan woman patted me down with a towel.
At first I was horrified, embarrassed and maybe even a tiny bit ashamed of being naked (cheers Catholicism). However, after a couple of these bizarre spa experiences around the world I realised that these massage therapists probably have to massage the most horrendous of physical specimens on the daily and suddenly I didn’t give a shit anymore. I’d strip down in the blink of an eye.
In Slovenia I had to get into a bath tub, completely naked, boobs afloat and lie there whilst the therapist filled the bath with all sorts of therapeutic salts and oils etc. If that had been at the start of my travels I would have absolutely died. Nowadays, thanks to the weird and wonderful world of travel, I’m a lot more comfortable in my body.
Even in Finland, I knew I had to try skiing, but I was terrified. I was so scared of breaking a limb that I let it ruin the first 15 minutes of my lesson. Then, all of a sudden, after I gave it a chance, I realised that it was a whole lot of fun. Same goes for ice-climbing! Don’t let fear hold you back. Adventure and great stories don’t come from people who did the same old regular stuff on their travels. Try something new, you might surprise yourself, or even find your calling.
Choose the Right Location
Many people form the Western world decide to go to the East, or somewhere far away to do their soul searching. Exposing yourself to an entirely new culture, foods, and customs, is a great way to get yourself out of a rut and wake you up. There are some classic soul searching experiences to be found found in India, the home of yoga. Many people find visiting the temples, and basking in the mindful and spiritual ethos very fulfilling.
Part of the experience is dealing with the language barrier and exchange rate, but there are companies that can help you with that, of course (friends have recommended rumahdijual.com/ for India specifically). It can be a little more challenging travelling to these far away places, but it is well worth it. Whether you are religious or not going to the Vatican (which did nothing for me spiritually), or to Israel (which I loved and also quite disliked) can also be an eye opening experience.
Have a think about what kind of places you would find soulful. Places with lots of history, or of great natural beauty are popular choices for soul searching. For me it’s usually mountains. I feel most myself at the top of the mountain with stunning views and the wind whipping my face. Which is probably why Peru was a life-changing country for me.
But soul searching through travel doesn’t mean you have to go far away. I’m obsessed with Northern Ireland, only 1.5hrs drive away from my home in Dublin. Exploring places on your own front door step can be exactly what you need to figure what you really need, and what’s been holding you back in life.
This summer I spent a few months down in Wexford in a gorgeous apartment by the beach. I did a couple of days pharmacy work, worked on the blog and did a tonne of things that I’d been meaning to do but had never gotten around to. It was like a soul-searching staycation, and it was just as good as going to Indonesia to become a yoga instructor! But wherever you choose, make sure it’s somewhere that suits you. And if you get there and realise you don’t like it, don’t worry, just go somewhere else.
Oh and you don’t have to be a student, or on your gap year, to want to go have a meaningful experience. Taking some time off work, or just wanting to have some me-time is a fantastic way to get away from everyday life. I had travelled a lot growing up but I only really went on a proper “walk about”, or started looking for something from travel after I finished college.
I’ve actually found that every time something extremely stressful happens in my life I NEED to travel to clear my head, reevaluate where I am in my life and reaffirm my goals etc. You would be surprised the effect it has on your mind and well-being, and how reconnected you can feel after disconnecting from your life back home. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but if you don’t like travel then I’ve no idea what you’re doing here!?! SO, what are you waiting for, go book that life-changing trip.
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